Even amongst bookish people, the topic of short stories can be a divisive one. Some readers see short stories as too tedious or time-consuming, while others readers might complain that they feel short stories lack the depth of a novel. Adding to this conundrum, some readers were never properly introduced to short stories and now feel too overwhelmed by the genre and don’t even know where to start. Whatever the case may be, we here at The Spellbinding Shelf celebrate short stories, inviting you to abandon all prior convictions with our comprehensive list of five collections that are bound to make you fall in love with short stories.
Her Body and Other Parties—Carmen Maria Machado. Machado is known for the macabre undertones in her writing and for creating female characters who are not always wholesomely motivated. The ease of her prose makes this collection incredibly alluring, but there is more to it than that—these stories are dark, empowering, nuanced, sinister, and above all else, great fun to read.
Civilwarland in Bad Decline—George Saunders. This is a powerfully imaginative collection that tests the elasticity of language. It doesn’t matter if Saunders is writing about subversive capitalistic greed or an amusement park that is reminiscent of West World, these tales are impeccably crafted. Each story presents a strange new world that will leave the reader intrigued and wanting more.
Stories of Your Life and Others—Ted Chiang. In this collection, Chiang challenges the notion of what short stories are capable of. He builds dense worlds rich with unique language and dynamic characters. He experiments with time to decrease the flow of information to a drip, and yet every page will leave you yearning to know the tales extraordinary conclusion. Ted Chiang is an author worth reading again and again.
Magic for Beginners—Kelly Link. While all of the authors on this list so far experiment with blending the lines between genre and literary fiction, none are so adept at it as Kelly Link. That is not to say that her stories are gimmicky or weighed down by superfluous magic systems and supernatural characters. On the contrary, Link’s stories are full of emotional truth and excavate the far reaches of the imagination. Simply put, these stories are magical, but their power does not come from casting spells, but rather, in their ability to entrance their reader.
Since 1978, the Best American Short Stories series has been a literary staple with anthologies cultivated by great writers such as Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, Margaret Atwood, Tobias Wolff, Annie Proulx, Lorrie Moore, Roxane Gay, and most recently Anthony Doerr. Each year, this anthology puts forward twenty short stories that represent the best published short fiction. Each collection offers new worlds of enchantment, heartbreak, and excitement. There is no better place to find scores of talented writers, and also a plethora of publications, to further explore short stories—which by now you’re bound to love.
History is a rolling saga of love and war, and we are irrevocably changed by both. Generations of great writers have documented the change of times and the novelties they brought with them, and so I’ve decided to give you a few books that have truly marked the end of an era.
Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Windfondly remembers the last golden days of the South antebellum, before the Civil War wrenched families apart and changed the landscape of American society.
Scarlett O’Hara, a blooming southern belle, and Rhett Butler, an outrageous pragmatist, fall in and out of love in this classic as they struggle with the pain of losing loved ones, drastically altered social positions and wartime hardships.
Mother is the most popular work of Maxim Gorky. Based on real-life events that Gorky was personally connected to, this novel is about the spiritual awakening of a young factory worker and his careworn mother in Tsarist Russia.
Pavel Vlasov starts out by taking after his hard-drinking father, but soon meets a group of revolutionaries and begins to get an education in politics and philosophy. He stops drinking and undergoes a quiet transformation into a sharp, receptive young man.
This incites curiosity in Pelageya Nilovna, Pavel’s mother. After a lifetime of abuse and poverty, she overcomes her illiteracy and political ignorance to become a revolutionary. It is because of this display of willpower and strength of character, Nilovna Vlasova, not Pavel, is considered by many to be the true protagonist of the novel.
In one of the greatest love stories to emerge from World War I, Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms is set against the background of the Italian front, where Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American ambulance driver, falls in love with Catherine Barkley, a British nurse’s aide.
The stark reality of war brings real affection out of the playful simulation of love that the two initially engage in.
Frederic and Catherine are symbolic of the countless men and women who were kept apart by social and geographical boundaries in those uncertain times. This classic is about the illusion of glory in war and the courage to bid it farewell.
One cannot think of World War I without remembering the concurrent movement of the suffragettes, which spanned decades before and after the war.
My Own Storyis the autobiography of Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union. Ghostwritten by Rheta Childe Dorr, it is a detailed memoir of Pankhurst’s work as an activist and the long road to electoral equality between British men and women.
The Diary of a Young Girl is a compilation of the diary entries of a pre-adolescent Jewish girl in Germany, forced into hiding with her family by the onset of the Holocaust.
Anne Frank kept a thorough record of the two years she spent in the Secret Annex, the mortification of growing up among near-strangers with various quirks, the lack of privacy and, of course, the uncertainty of life itself.
This piece of literature is remarkable for its unaffected style of prose and the sheer truthfulness and poignancy of the emotions portrayed on the pages. Anne Frank is a literary icon, immortalized through her work as an unwitting historian.
Publisher: Vintage, 2013 Genre: Literature Pages: 176 Format: Paperback Buy Local My Rating: 5/5 stars
When David’s girlfriend Hella flees the country without answering his marriage proposal, his life is plunged into emotional and financial turmoil. Left alone in Paris in the 1950s, he must find a way to support himself while his father denies him money in hopes of pressuring him into returning to the United States. For a season, David finds refuge in the apartment of a handsome Italian bartender named Giovanni. The two men begin a romantic relationship that plunges David into a moral crisis, dredging up an identity he had been running from. Ultimately, their affair is full of discovery, dependency, and loathing—coming to an inevitably tragic end.
What I most enjoyed about this book is how it fearlessly grapples with the topics of sexuality and masculinity. David and Giovanni’s relationship is enshrouded in a secret—David’s would-be-fiancé Hella—from the beginning, predestining it for a short lifespan. Further complicating their affair, societal pressure weighs the men down and warps their perception of one another. Simultaneous to this relationship playing out, Baldwin presents a secondary character who questions the reader’s view of masculinity: the always sharply dressed Guillaume, a man wealthy enough to force the young men who work for him—like Giovanni—into doing whatever he wants at risk of losing their jobs and having their reputations ruined. While Guillaume is not a particularly appealing character, there is no doubt that he has agency, a revolutionary concept—especially in 1956–for a homosexual male character who is not masculine presenting.
Baldwin furthers the work’s modern sensibilities, and my delight, by perfectly illustrating the “it’s complicated” relationship status on Facebook. Though this is not David’s first same-sex encounter, he finds himself blaming Giovanni as if he has been taken advantage of. This blame leads him to a personal affirmation that their affection for one another is unnatural, driving a wedge between the two men and highlighting the damage that shame and guilt can cause if woven into the emotional tapestry of a relationship; a theme that is universal beyond same-sex relationships, making this novel more accessible to a wider audience.
What resonates most with me about this book, however, is how it examines the cost of living life authentically. David knows that he desires Giovanni more than anything else, and yet, for a chance at normalcy, he must deny his authentic self; Giovanni is a working-class immigrant who is running from normalcy in hopes of finding his authentic self; and Hella wishes to be an independent woman, but also feels that she cannot take full advantage of life without living in a traditionally domesticated way. These internal struggles showcase the damage that denying our authentic self can cause—not only internally, but to those nearest to us as well.
Full of beautiful language and rich emotional landscapes, Giovanni’s Room is an incredibly accessible read and comes in at less than two hundred pages—making it a perfect addition to your pride month reading list.